Theodore Roosevelt (18581919). An Autobiography. 1913.
XIII SOCIAL AND INDUSTRIAL JUSTICE
BY the time I became President I had grown to feel with deep intensity of conviction that governmental agencies must find their justification largely in the way in which they are used for the practical betterment of living and working conditions among the mass of the people. I felt that the fight was really for the abolition of privilege; and one of the first stages in the battle was necessarily to fight for the rights of the workingman. For this reason I felt most strongly that all that the government could do in the interest of labor should be done. The Federal Government can rarely act with the directness that the State governments act. It can, however, do a good deal. My purpose was to make the National Government itself a model employer of labor, the effort being to make the per diem employee just as much as the Cabinet officer regard himself as one of the partners employed in the service of the public, proud of his work, eager to do it in the best possible manner, and confident of just treatment. Our aim was also to secure good laws wherever the National Government had power, notably in the Territories, in the District of Columbia, and in connection with inter-State commerce. I found the eight-hour law a mere farce, the departments rarely enforcing it with any degree of efficiency. This I remedied by executive action. Unfortunately, thoroughly efficient government servants often proved to be the prime offenders so far as the enforcement of the eight-hour law was concerned, because in their zeal to get good work done for the Government they became harsh taskmasters, and declined to consider the needs of their fellow-employees who served under them. The more I had studied the subject the more strongly I had become convinced that an eight-hour day under the conditions of labor in the United States was all that could, with wisdom and propriety, be required either by the Government or by private employers; that more than this meant, on the average, a decrease in the qualities that tell for good citizenship. I finally solved the problem, as far as Government employees were concerned, by calling in Charles P. Neill, the head of the Labor Bureau; and, acting on his advice, I speedily made the eight-hour law really effective. Any man who shirked his work, who dawdled and idled, received no mercy; slackness is even worse than harshness; for exactly as in battle mercy to the coward is cruelty to the brave man, so in civil life slackness towards the vicious and idle is harshness towards the honest and hard-working.
We passed a good law protecting the lives and health of miners in the Territories, and other laws providing for the supervision of employment agencies in the District of Columbia, and protecting the health of motormen and conductors on street railways in the District. We practically started the Bureau of Mines. We provided for safeguarding factory employees in the District against accidents, and for the restriction of child labor therein. We passed a workmen's compensation law for the protection of Government employees; a law which did not go as far as I wished, but which was the best I could get, and which committed the Government to the right policy. We provided for an investigation of woman and child labor in the United States. We incorporated the National Child Labor Committee. Where we had most difficulty was with the railway companies engaged in inter-State business. We passed an act improving safety appliances on railway trains without much opposition, but we had more trouble with acts regulating the hours of labor of railway employees and making those railways which were engaged in inter-State commerce liable for injuries to or the death of their employees while on duty. One important step in connection with these latter laws was taken by Attorney-General Moody when, on behalf of the Government, he intervened in the case of a wronged employee. It is unjust that a law which has been declared public policy by the representatives of the people should be submitted to the possibility of nullification because the Government leaves the enforcement of it to the private initiative of poor people who have just suffered some crushing accident. It should be the business of the Government to enforce laws of this kind, and to appear in court to argue for their constitutionality and proper enforcement. Thanks to Moody, the Government assumed this position. The first employers' liability law affecting inter-State railroads was declared unconstitutional. We got through another, which stood the test of the courts.
The principle to which we especially strove to give expression, through these laws and through executive action, was that a right is valueless unless reduced from the abstract to the concrete. This sounds like a truism. So far from being such, the effort practically to apply it was almost revolutionary, and gave rise to the bitterest denunciation of us by all the big lawyers, and all the big newspaper editors, who, whether sincerely or for hire, gave expression to the views of the privileged classes. Ever since the Civil War very many of the decisions of the courts, not as regards ordinary actions between man and man, but as regards the application of great governmental policies for social and industrial justice, had been in reality nothing but ingenious justifications of the theory that these policies were mere high-sounding abstractions, and were not to be given practical effect. The tendency of the courts had been, in the majority of cases, jealously to exert their great power in protecting those who least needed protection and hardly to use their power at all in the interest of those who most needed protection. Our desire was to make the Federal Government efficient as an instrument for protecting the rights of labor within its province, and therefore to secure and enforce judicial decisions which would permit us to make this desire effective. Not only some of the Federal judges, but some of the State courts invoked the Constitution in a spirit of the narrowest legalistic obstruction to prevent the Government from acting in defense of labor on inter-State railways. In effect, these judges took the view that while Congress had complete power as regards the goods transported by the railways, and could protect wealthy or well-to-do owners of these goods, yet that it had no power to protect the lives of the men engaged in transporting the goods. Such judges freely issued injunctions to prevent the obstruction of traffic in the interest of the property owners, but declared unconstitutional the action of the Government in seeking to safeguard the men, and the families of the men, without whose labor the traffic could not take place. It was an instance of the largely unconscious way in which the courts had been twisted into the exaltation of property rights over human rights, and the subordination of the welfare of the laborer when compared with the profit of the man for whom he labored. By what I fear my conservative friends regarded as frightfully aggressive missionary work, which included some uncommonly plain speaking as to certain unjust and anti-social judicial decisions, we succeeded in largely, but by no means altogether, correcting this view, at least so far as the best and most enlightened judges were concerned.
Very much the most important action I took as regards labor had nothing to do with legislation, and represented executive action which was not required by the Constitution. It illustrated as well as anything that I did the theory which I have called the Jackson-Lincoln theory of the Presidency; that is, that occasionally great national crises arise which call for immediate and vigorous executive action, and that in such cases it is the duty of the President to act upon the theory that he is the steward of the people, and that the proper attitude for him to take is that he is bound to assume that he has the legal right to do whatever the needs of the people demand, unless the Constitution or the laws explicitly forbid him to do it.
Early in the spring of 1902 a universal strike began in the anthracite regions. The miners and the operators became deeply embittered, and the strike went on throughout the summer and the early fall without any sign of reaching an end, and with almost complete stoppage of mining. In many cities, especially in the East, the heating apparatus is designed for anthracite, so that the bituminous coal is only a very partial substitute. Moreover, in many regions, even in farmhouses; many of the provisions are for burning coal and not wood. In consequence, the coal famine became a National menace as the winter approached. In most big cities and many farming districts east of the Mississippi the shortage of anthracite threatened calamity. In the populous industrial States, from Ohio eastward, it was not merely calamity, but the direst disaster, that was threatened. Ordinarily conservative men, men very sensitive as to the rights of property under normal conditions, when faced by this crisis felt, quite rightly, that there must be some radical action. The Governor of Massachusetts and the Mayor of New York both notified me, as the cold weather came on, that if the coal famine continued the misery throughout the Northeast, and especially in the great cities, would become appalling, and the consequent public disorder so great that frightful consequences might follow. It is not too much to say that the situation which confronted Pennsylvania, New York, and New England, and to a less degree the States of the Middle West, in October, 1902, was quite as serious as if they had been threatened by the invasion of a hostile army of overwhelming force.
The big coal operators had banded together, and positively refused to take any steps looking toward an accommodation. They knew that the suffering among the miners was great; they were confident that if order were kept, and nothing further done by the Government, they would win; and they refused to consider that the public had any rights in the matter. They were, for the most part, men of unquestionably good private life, and they were merely taking the extreme individualistic view of the rights of property and the freedom of individual action upheld in the laissez faire political economics. The mines were in the State of Pennsylvania. There was no duty whatever laid upon me by the Constitution in the matter, and I had in theory no power to act directly unless the Governor of Pennsylvania or the Legislature, if it were in session, should notify me that Pennsylvania could not keep order, and request me as commander-in-chief of the army of the United States to intervene and keep order.
As long as I could avoid interfering I did so; but I directed the head of the Labor Bureau, Carroll Wright, to make a thorough investigation and lay the facts fully before me. As September passed without any sign of weakening either among the employers or the striking workmen, the situation became so grave that I felt I would have to try to do something. The thing most feasible was to get both sides to agree to a Commission of Arbitration, with a promise to accept its findings; the miners to go to work as soon as the commission was appointed, at the old rate of wages. To this proposition the miners, headed by John Mitchell, agreed, stipulating only that I should have power to name the Commission. The operators, however, positively refused. They insisted that all that was necessary to do was for the State to keep order, using the militia as a police force; although both they and the miners asked me to intervene under the Inter-State Commerce Law, each side requesting that I proceed against the other, and both requests being impossible.
Finally, on October 3, the representatives of both the operators and the miners met before me, in pursuance of my request. The representatives of the miners included as their head and spokesman John Mitchell, who kept his temper admirably and showed to much advantage. The representatives of the operators, on the contrary, came down in a most insolent frame of mind, refused to talk of arbitration or other accommodation of any kind, and used language that was insulting to the miners and offensive to me. They were curiously ignorant of the popular temper; and when they went away from the interview they, with much pride, gave their own account of it to the papers, exulting in the fact that they had "turned down" both the miners and the President.
I refused to accept the rebuff, however, and continued the effort to get an agreement between the operators and the miners. I was anxious to get this agreement, because it would prevent the necessity of taking the extremely drastic action I meditated, and which is hereinafter described.
Fortunately, this time we were successful. Yet we went on the verge of failure, because of self-willed obstinacy on the part of the operators. This obstinacy was utterly silly from their own standpoint, and well-nigh criminal from the standpoint of the people at large. The miners proposed that I should name the Commission, and that if I put on a representative of the employing class I should also put on a labor union man. The operators positively declined to accept the suggestion. They insisted upon my naming a Commission of only five men, and specified the qualifications these men should have, carefully choosing these qualifications so as to exclude those whom it had leaked out I was thinking of appointing, including ex-President Cleveland. They made the condition that I was to appoint one officer of the engineer corps of the army or navy, one man with experience of mining, one "man of prominence," "eminent as a sociologist," one Federal judge of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and one mining engineer.
They positively refused to have me appoint any representative of labor, or to put on an extra man. I was desirous of putting on the extra man, because Mitchell and the other leaders of the miners had urged me to appoint some high Catholic ecclesiastic. Most of the miners were Catholics, and Mitchell and the leaders were very anxious to secure peaceful acquiescence by the miners in any decision rendered, and they felt that their hands would be strengthened if such an appointment were made. They also, quite properly, insisted that there should be one representative of labor on the Commission, as all of the others represented the propertied classes. The operators, however, absolutely refused to acquiesce in the appointment of any representative of labor, and also announced that they would refuse to accept a sixth man on the Commission; although they spoke much less decidedly on this point. The labor men left everything in my hands.
The final conferences with the representatives of the operators took place in my rooms on the evening of October 15. Hour after hour went by while I endeavored to make the operators through their representatives see that the country would not tolerate their insisting upon such conditions; but in vain. The two representatives of the operators were Robert Bacon and George W. Perkins. They were entirely reasonable. But the operators themselves were entirely unreasonable. They had worked themselves into a frame of mind where they were prepared to sacrifice everything and see civil war in the country rather than back down and acquiesce in the appointment of a representative of labor. It looked as if a deadlock were inevitable.
Then, suddenly, after about two hours' argument, it dawned on me that they were not objecting to the thing, but to the name. I found that they did not mind my appointing any man, whether he was a labor man or not, so long as he was not appointed as a labor man, or as a representative of labor; they did not object to my exercising any latitude I chose in the appointments so long as they were made under the headings they had given. I shall never forget the mixture of relief and amusement I felt when I thoroughly grasped the fact that while they would heroically submit to anarchy rather than have Tweedledum, yet if I would call it Tweedledee they would accept it with rapture; it gave me an illuminating glimpse into one corner of the mighty brains of these "captains of industry." In order to carry the great and vital point and secure agreement by both parties, all that was necessary for me to do was to commit a technical and nominal absurdity with a solemn face. This I gladly did. I announced at once that I accepted the terms laid down. With this understanding, I appointed the labor man I had all along had in view, Mr. E. E. Clark, the head of the Brotherhood of Railway Conductors, calling him an "eminent sociologist"a term which I doubt whether he had ever previously heard. He was a first-class man, whom I afterward put on the Inter-State Commerce Commission. I added to the Arbitration Commission, on my own authority, a sixth member, in the person of Bishop Spalding, a Catholic bishop, of Peoria, Ill., one of the very best men to be found in the entire country. The man whom the operators had expected me to appoint as the sociologist was Carroll Wrightwho really was an eminent sociologist. I put him on as recorder of the Commission, and added him as a seventh member as soon as the Commission got fairly started. In publishing the list of the Commissioners, when I came to Clark's appointment, I added: "As a sociologistthe President assuming that for the purposes of such a Commission, the term sociologist means a man who has thought and studied deeply on social questions and has practically applied his knowledge."
The relief of the whole country was so great that the sudden appearance of the head of the Brotherhood of Railway Conductors as an "eminent sociologist" merely furnished material for puzzled comment on the part of the press. It was a most admirable Commission. It did a noteworthy work, and its report is a monument in the history of the relations of labor and capital in this country. The strike, by the way, brought me into contact with more than one man who was afterward a valued friend and fellow-worker. On the suggestion of Carroll Wright I appointed as assistant recorders to the Commission Charles P. Neill, whom I afterward made Labor Commissioner, to succeed Wright himself, and Mr. Edward A. Moseley. Wilkes-Barre was the center of the strike; and the man in Wilkes-Barre who helped me most was Father Curran; I grew to know and trust and believe in him, and throughout my term in office, and afterward, he was not only my stanch friend, but one of the men by whose advice and counsel I profited most in matters affecting the welfare of the miners and their families.
I was greatly relieved at the result, for more than one reason. Of course, first and foremost, my concern was to avert a frightful calamity to the United States. In the next place I was anxious to save the great coal operators and all of the class of big propertied men, of which they were members, from the dreadful punishment which their own folly would have brought on them if I had not acted; and one of the exasperating things was that they were so blinded that they could not see that I was trying to save them from themselves and to avert, not only for their sakes, but for the sake of the country, the excesses which would have been indulged in at their expense if they had longer persisted in their conduct.
The great Anthracite Strike of 1902 left an indelible impress upon the people of the United States. It showed clearly to all wise and far-seeing men that the labor problem in this country had entered upon a new phase. Industry had grown. Great financial corporations, doing a nation-wide and even a world-wide business, had taken the place of the smaller concerns of an earlier time. The old familiar, intimate relations between employer and employee were passing. A few generations before, the boss had known every man in his shop; he called his men Bill, Tom, Dick, John; he inquired after their wives and babies; he swapped jokes and stories and perhaps a bit of tobacco with them. In the small establishment there had been a friendly human relationship between employer and employee.
There was no such relation between the great railway magnates, who controlled the anthracite industry, and the one hundred and fifty thousand men who worked in their mines, or the half million women and children who were dependent upon these miners for their daily bread. Very few of these mine workers had ever seen, for instance, the president of the Reading Railroad. Had they seen him many of them could not have spoken to him, for tens of thousands of the mine workers were recent immigrants who did not understand the language which he spoke and who spoke a language which he could not understand.
Again, a few generations ago an American workman could have saved money, gone West and taken up a homestead. Now the free lands were gone. In earlier days a man who began with pick and shovel might have come to own a mine. That outlet too was now closed, as regards the immense majority, and few, if any, of the one hundred and fifty thousand mine workers could ever aspire to enter the small circle of men who held in their grasp the great anthracite industry. The majority of the men who earned wages in the coal industry, if they wished to progress at all, were compelled to progress not by ceasing to be wage-earners, but by improving the conditions under which all the wage-earners in all the industries of the country lived and worked, as well, of course, as improving their own individual efficiency.
Another change which had come about as a result of the foregoing was a crass inequality in the bargaining relation between the employer and the individual employee standing alone. The great coal-mining and coal-carrying companies, which employed their tens of thousands, could easily dispense with the services of any particular miner. The miner, on the other hand, however expert, could not dispense with the companies. He needed a job; his wife and children would starve if he did not get one. What the miner had to sellhis laborwas a perishable commodity; the labor of to-dayif not sold to-daywas lost forever. Moreover, his labor was not like most commoditiesa mere thing; it was part of a living, breathing human being. The workman saw, and all citizens who gave earnest thought to the matter saw, that the labor problem was not only an economic, but also a moral, a human problem. Individually the miners were impotent when they sought to enter a wage-contract with the great companies; they could make fair terms only by uniting into trade unions to bargain collectively. The men were forced to coöperate to secure not only their economic, but their simple human rights. They, like other workmen, were compelled by the very conditions under which they lived to unite in unions of their industry or trade, and these unions were bound to grow in size, in strength, and in power for good and evil as the industries in which the men were employed grew larger and larger.
A democracy can be such in fact only if there is some rough approximation to similarity in stature among the men composing it. One of us can deal in our private lives with the grocer or the butcher or the carpenter or the chicken raiser, or if we are the grocer or carpenter or butcher or farmer, we can deal with our customers, because we are all of about the same size. Therefore a simple and poor society can exist as a democracy on a basis of sheer individualism. But a rich and complex industrial society cannot so exist; for some individuals, and especially those artificial individuals called corporations, become so very big that the ordinary individual is utterly dwarfed beside them, and cannot deal with them on terms of equality. It therefore becomes necessary for these ordinary individuals to combine in their turn, first in order to act in their collective capacity through that biggest of all combinations called the Government, and second, to act, also in their own self-defense, through private combinations, such as farmers' associations and trade unions.
This the great coal operators did not see. They did not see that their property rights, which they so stoutly defended, were of the same texture as were the human rights, which they so blindly and hotly denied. They did not see that the power which they exercised by representing their stockholders was of the same texture as the power which the union leaders demanded of representing the workmen, who had democratically elected them. They did not see that the right to use one's property as one will can be maintained only so long as it is consistent with the maintenance of certain fundamental human rights, of the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, or, as we may restate them in these later days, of the rights of the worker to a living wage, to reasonable hours of labor, to decent working and living conditions, to freedom of thought and speech and industrial representation,in short, to a measure of industrial democracy and, in return for his arduous toil, to a worthy and decent life according to American standards. Still another thing these great business leaders did not see. They did not see that both their interests and the interests of the workers must be accommodated, and if need be, subordinated, to the fundamental permanent interests of the whole community. No man and no group of men may so exercise their rights as to deprive the nation of the things which are necessary and vital to the common life. A strike which ties up the coal supplies of a whole section is a strike invested with a public interest.
So great was that public interest in the Coal Strike of 1902, so deeply and strongly did I feel the wave of indignation which swept over the whole country that had I not succeeded in my efforts to induce the operators to listen to reason, I should reluctantly but none the less decisively have taken a step which would have brought down upon my head the execrations of many of "the captains of industry," as well as of sundry "respectable" newspapers who dutifully take their cue from them. As a man should be judged by his intentions as well as by his actions, I will give here the story of the intervention that never happened.
While the coal operators were exulting over the fact that they had "turned down" the miners and the President, there arose in all parts of the country an outburst of wrath so universal that even so naturally conservative a man as Grover Cleveland wrote to me, expressing his sympathy with the course I was following, his indignation at the conduct of the operators, and his hope that I would devise some method of effective action. In my own mind I was already planning effective action; but it was of a very drastic character, and I did not wish to take it until the failure of all other expedients had rendered it necessary. Above all, I did not wish to talk about it until and unless I actually acted. I had definitely determined that somehow or other act I would, that somehow or other the coal famine should be broken. To accomplish this end it was necessary that the mines should be run, and, if I could get no voluntary agreement between the contending sides, that an Arbitration Commission should be appointed which would command such public confidence as to enable me, without too much difficulty, to enforce its terms upon both parties. Ex-President Cleveland's letter not merely gratified me, but gave me the chance to secure him as head of the Arbitration Commission. I at once wrote him, stating that I would very probably have to appoint an Arbitration Commission or Investigating Commission to look into the matter and decide on the rights of the case, whether or not the operators asked for or agreed to abide by the decisions of such a Commission; and that I would ask him to accept the chief place on the Commission. He answered that he would do so. I picked out several first-class men for other positions on the Commission.
Meanwhile the Governor of Pennsylvania had all the Pennsylvania militia in the anthracite region, although without any effect upon the resumption of mining. The method of action upon which I had determined in the last resort was to get the Governor of Pennsylvania to ask me to keep order. Then I would put in the army under the command of some first-rate general. I would instruct this general to keep absolute order, taking any steps whatever that were necessary to prevent interference by the strikers or their sympathizers with men who wanted to work. I would also instruct him to dispossess the operators and run the mines as a receiver until such time as the Commission might make its report, and until I, as President, might issue further orders in view of this report. I had to find a man who possessed the necessary good sense, judgment, and nerve to act in such event. He was ready to hand in the person of Major-General Schofield. I sent for him, telling him that if I had to make use of him it would be because the crisis was only less serious than that of the Civil War, that the action taken would be practically a war measure, and that if I sent him he must act in a purely military capacity under me as commander-in-chief, paying no heed to any authority, judicial or otherwise, except mine. He was a fine fellowa most respectable-looking old boy, with side whiskers and a black skull-cap, without any of the outward aspect of the conventional military dictator; but in both nerve and judgment he was all right, and he answered quietly that if I gave the order he would take possession of the mines, and would guarantee to open them and to run them without permitting any interference either by the owners or the strikers or anybody else, so long as I told him to stay. I then saw Senator Quay, who, like every other responsible man in high position, was greatly wrought up over the condition of things. I told him that he need be under no alarm as to the problem not being solved, that I was going to make another effort to get the operators and miners to come together, but that I would solve the problem in any event and get coal; that, however, I did not wish to tell him anything of the details of my intention, but merely to have him arrange that whenever I gave the word the Governor of Pennsylvania should request me to intervene; that when this was done I would be responsible for all that followed, and would guarantee that the coal famine would end forthwith. The Senator made no inquiry or comment, and merely told me that he in his turn would guarantee that the Governor would request my intervention the minute I asked that the request be made.
These negotiations were conducted with the utmost secrecy, General Schofield being the only man who knew exactly what my plan was, and Senator Quay, two members of my Cabinet, and ex-President Cleveland and the other men whom I proposed to put on the Commission, the only other men who knew that I had a plan. As I have above outlined, my efforts to bring about an agreement between the operators and miners were finally successful. I was glad not to have to take possession of the mines on my own initiative by means of General Schofield and the regulars. I was all ready to act, and would have done so without the slightest hesitation or a moment's delay if the negotiations had fallen through. And my action would have been entirely effective. But it is never well to take drastic action if the result can be achieved with equal efficiency in less drastic fashion; and, although this was a minor consideration, I was personally saved a good deal of future trouble by being able to avoid this drastic action. At the time I should have been almost unanimously supported. With the famine upon them the people would not have tolerated any conduct that would have thwarted what I was doing. Probably no man in Congress, and no man in the Pennsylvania State Legislature, would have raised his voice against me. Although there would have been plenty of muttering, nothing would have been done to interfere with the solution of the problem which I had devised, until the solution was accomplished and the problem ceased to be a problem. Once this was done, and when people were no longer afraid of a coal famine, and began to forget that they ever had been afraid of it, and to be indifferent as regards the consequences to those who put an end to it, then my enemies would have plucked up heart and begun a campaign against me. I doubt if they could have accomplished much anyway, for the only effective remedy against me would have been impeachment, and that they would not have ventured to try. 1
They would doubtless have acted precisely as they acted as regards the acquisition of the Panama Canal Zone in 1903, and the stoppage of the panic of 1907 by my action in the Tennessee Coal and Iron Company matter. Nothing could have made the American people surrender the canal zone. But after it was an accomplished fact, and the canal was under way, then they settled down to comfortable acceptance of the accomplished fact, and as their own interests were no longer in jeopardy, they paid no heed to the men who attacked me because of what I had doneand also continue to attack me, although they are exceedingly careful not to propose to right the "wrong," in the only proper way if it really was a wrong, by replacing the old Republic of Panama under the tyranny of Colombia and giving Colombia sole or joint ownership of the canal itself. In the case of the panic of 1907 (as in the case of Panama), what I did was not only done openly, but depended for its effect upon being done openly and with the widest advertisement. Nobody in Congress ventured to make an objection at the time. No serious leader outside made any objection. The one concern of everybody was to stop the panic, and everybody was overjoyed that I was willing to take the responsibility of stopping it upon my own shoulders. But a few months afterward, the panic was a thing of the past. People forgot the frightful condition of alarm in which they had been. They no longer had a personal interest in preventing any interference with the stoppage of the panic. Then the men who had not dared to raise their voices until all danger was past came bravely forth from their hiding places and denounced the action which had saved them. They had kept a hushed silence when there was danger; they made clamorous outcry when there was safety in doing so.
Just the same course would have been followed in connection with the Anthracite Coal Strike if I had been obliged to act in the fashion I intended to act had I failed to secure a voluntary agreement between the miners and the operators. Even as it was, my action was remembered with rancor by the heads of the great monied interests; and as time went by was assailed with constantly increasing vigor by the newspapers these men controlled. Had I been forced to take possession of the mines, these men and the politicians hostile to me would have waited until the popular alarm was over and the popular needs met, just as they waited in the case of the Tennessee Coal and Iron Company; and then they would have attacked me precisely as they did attack me as regards the Tennessee Coal and Iron Company.
Of course, in labor controversies it was not always possible to champion the cause of the workers, because in many cases strikes were called which were utterly unwarranted and were fought by methods which cannot be too harshly condemned. No straightforward man can believe, and no fearless man will assert, that a trade union is always right. That man is an unworthy public servant who by speech or silence, by direct statement or cowardly evasion, invariably throws the weight of his influence on the side of the trade union, whether it is right or wrong. It has occasionally been my duty to give utterance to the feelings of all right thinking men by expressing the most emphatic disapproval of unwise or even immoral actions by representatives of labor. The man is no true democrat, and if an American, is unworthy of the traditions of his country who, in problems calling for the exercise of a moral judgment, fails to take his stand on conduct and not on class. There are good and bad wage-workers just as there are good and bad employers, and good and bad men of small means and of large means alike.
But a willingness to do equal and exact justice to all citizens, irrespective of race, creed, section or economic interest and position, does not imply a failure to recognize the enormous economic, political and moral possibilities of the trade union. Just as democratic government cannot be condemned because of errors and even crimes committed by men democratically elected, so trade-unionism must not be condemned because of errors or crimes of occasional trade-union leaders. The problem lies deeper. While we must repress all illegalities and discourage all immoralities, whether of labor organizations or of corporations, we must recognize the fact that to-day the organization of labor into trade unions and federations is necessary, is beneficent, and is one of the greatest possible agencies in the attainment of a true industrial, as well as a true political, democracy in the United States.
This is a fact which many well-intentioned people even to-day do not understand. They do not understand that the labor problem is a human and a moral as well as an economic problem; that a fall in wages, an increase in hours, a deterioration of labor conditions mean wholesale moral as well as economic degeneration, and the needless sacrifice of human lives and human happiness, while a rise of wages, a lessening of hours, a bettering of conditions, mean an intellectual, moral and social uplift of millions of American men and women. There are employers to-day who, like the great coal operators, speak as though they were lords of these countless armies of Americans, who toil in factory, in shop, in mill and in the dark places under the earth. They fail to see that all these men have the right and the duty to combine to protect themselves and their families from want and degradation. They fail to see that the Nation and the Government, within the range of fair play and a just administration of the law, must inevitably sympathize with the men who have nothing but their wages, with the men who are struggling for a decent life, as opposed to men, however honorable, who are merely fighting for larger profits and an autocratic control of big business. Each man should have all he earns, whether by brain or body; and the director, the great industrial leader, is one of the greatest of earners, and should have a proportional reward; but no man should live on the earnings of another, and there should not be too gross inequality between service and reward.
There are many men to-day, men of integrity and intelligence, who honestly believe that we must go back to the labor conditions of half a century ago. They are opposed to trade unions, root and branch. They note the unworthy conduct of many labor leaders, they find instances of bad work by union men, of a voluntary restriction of output, of vexatious and violent strikes, of jurisdictional disputes between unions which often disastrously involve the best intentioned and fairest of employers. All these things occur and should be repressed. But the same critic of the trade union might find equal cause of complaint against individual employers of labor, or even against great associations of manufacturers. He might find many instances of an unwarranted cutting of wages, of flagrant violations of factory laws and tenement house laws, of the deliberate and systematic cheating of employees by means of truck stores, of the speeding up of work to a point which is fatal to the health of the workman, of the sweating of foreign-born workers, of the drafting of feeble little children into dusty workshops, of black-listing, of putting spies into union meetings and of the employment in strike times of vicious and desperate ruffians, who are neither better nor worse than are the thugs who are occasionally employed by unions under the sinister name, "entertainment committees." I believe that the overwhelming majority, both of workmen and of employers, are law-abiding, peaceful, and honorable citizens, and I do not think that it is just to lay up the errors and wrongs of individuals to the entire group to which they belong. I also thinkand this is a belief which has been borne upon me through many years of practical experiencethat the trade union is growing constantly in wisdom as well as in power, and is becoming one of the most efficient agencies toward the solution of our industrial problems, the elimination of poverty and of industrial disease and accidents, the lessening of unemployment, the achievement of industrial democracy and the attainment of a larger measure of social and industrial justice.
If I were a factory employee, a workman on the railroads or a wage-earner of any sort, I would undoubtedly join the union of my trade. If I disapproved of its policy, I would join in order to fight that policy; if the union leaders were dishonest, I would join in order to put them out. I believe in the union and I believe that all men who are benefited by the union are morally bound to help to the extent of their power in the common interests advanced by the union. Nevertheless, irrespective of whether a man should or should not, and does or does not, join the union of his trade, all the rights, privileges, and immunities of that man as an American and as a citizen should be safeguarded and upheld by the law. We dare not make an outlaw of any individual or any group, whatever his or its opinions or professions. The non-unionist, like the unionist, must be protected in all his legal rights by the full weight and power of the law.
This question came up before me in the shape of the right of a non-union printer named Miller to hold his position in the Government Printing Office. As I said before, I believe in trade unions. I always prefer to see a union shop. But my private preferences cannot control my public actions. The Government can recognize neither union men nor non-union men as such, and is bound to treat both exactly alike. In the Government Printing Office not many months prior to the opening of the Presidential campaign of 1904, when I was up for reëlection, I discovered that a man had been dismissed because he did not belong to the union. I reinstated him. Mr. Gompers, the President of the American Federation of Labor, with various members of the executive council of that body, called upon me to protest on September 29, 1903, and I answered them as follows:
"I thank you and your committee for your courtesy, and I appreciate the opportunity to meet with you. It will always be a pleasure to see you or any representatives of your organizations or of your Federation as a whole.
"As regards the Miller case, I have little to add to what I have already said. In dealing with it I ask you to remember that I am dealing purely with the relation of the Government to its employees. I must govern my action by the laws of the land, which I am sworn to administer, and which differentiate any case in which the Government of the United States is a party from all other cases whatsoever. These laws are enacted for the benefit of the whole people, and cannot and must not be construed as permitting discrimination against some of the people. I am President of all the people of the United States, without regard to creed, color, birthplace, occupation or social condition. My aim is to do equal and exact justice as among them all. In the employment and dismissal of men in the Government service I can no more recognize the fact that a man does or does not belong to a union as being for or against him than I can recognize the fact that he is a Protestant or a Catholic, a Jew or a Gentile, as being for or against him.
"In the communications sent me by various labor organizations protesting against the retention of Miller in the Government Printing Office, the grounds alleged are twofold: 1, that he is a non-union man; 2, that he is not personally fit. The question of his personal fitness is one to be settled in the routine of administrative detail, and cannot be allowed to conflict with or to complicate the larger question of governmental discrimination for or against him or any other man because he is or is not a member of a union. This is the only question now before me for decision; and as to this my decision is final."
Because of things I have done on behalf of justice to the workingman, I have often been called a Socialist. Usually I have not taken the trouble even to notice the epithet. I am not afraid of names, and I am not one of those who fear to do what is right because some one else will confound me with partisans with whose principles I am not in accord. Moreover, I know that many American Socialists are high-minded and honorable citizens, who in reality are merely radical social reformers. They are oppressed by the brutalities and industrial injustices which we see everywhere about us. When I recall how often I have seen Socialists and ardent non-Socialists working side by side for some specific measure of social or industrial reform, and how I have found opposed to them on the side of privilege many shrill reactionaries who insist on calling all reformers Socialists, I refuse to be panic-stricken by having this title mistakenly applied to me.
None the less, without impugning their motives, I do disagree most emphatically with both the fundamental philosophy and the proposed remedies of the Marxian Socialists. These Socialists are unalterably opposed to our whole industrial system. They believe that the payment of wages means everywhere and inevitably an exploitation of the laborer by the employer, and that this leads inevitably to a class war between those two groups, or, as they would say, between the capitalists and the proletariat. They assert that this class war is already upon us and can only be ended when capitalism is entirely destroyed and all the machines, mills, mines, railroads and other private property used in production are confiscated, expropriated, or taken over by the workers. They do not as a rule claimalthough some of the sinister extremists among them dothat this class war is a war of blood and bullets, but they do claim that there is and must be a continual struggle between two great classes, whose interests are opposed and cannot be reconciled. In this war they insist that the whole governmentNational, State and localis on the side of the employers and is used by them against the workmen, and that our law and even our common morality are class weapons, like a policeman's club or a Gatling gun.
I have never believed, and do not to-day believe, that such a class war is upon us, or need ever be upon us; nor do I believe that the interests of wage-earners and employers cannot be harmonized, compromised and adjusted. It would be idle to deny that wage-earners have certain different economic interests from, let us say, manufacturers or importers, just as farmers have different interests from sailors, and fishermen from bankers. There is no reason why any of these economic groups should not consult their group interests by any legitimate means and with due regard to the common, overlying interests of all. I do not even deny that the majority of wage-earners, because they have less property and less industrial security than others and because they do not own the machinery with which they work (as does the farmer) are perhaps in greater need of acting together than are other groups in the community. But I do insist (and I believe that the great majority of wage-earners take the same view) that employers and employees have overwhelming interests in common, both as partners in industry and as citizens of the Republic, and that where these interests are apart they can be adjusted by so altering our laws and their interpretation as to secure to all members of the community social and industrial justice.
I have always maintained that our worst revolutionaries to-day are those reactionaries who do not see and will not admit that there is any need for change. Such men seem to believe that the four and a half million Progressive voters, who in 1912 registered their solemn protest against our social and industrial injustices, are "anarchists," who are not willing to let ill enough alone. If these reactionaries had lived at an earlier time in our history, they would have advocated Sedition Laws, opposed free speech and free assembly, and voted against free schools, free access by settlers to the public lands, mechanics' lien laws, the prohibition of truck stores and the abolition of imprisonment for debt; and they are the men who to-day oppose minimum wage laws, insurance of workmen against the ills of industrial life and the reform of our legislators and our courts, which can alone render such measures possible. Some of these reactionaries are not bad men, but merely shortsighted and belated. It is these reactionaries, however, who, by "standing pat" on industrial injustice, incite inevitably to industrial revolt, and it is only we who advocate political and industrial democracy who render possible the progress of our American industry on large constructive lines with a minimum of friction because with a maximum of justice.
Everything possible should be done to secure the wage-workers fair treatment. There should be an increased wage for the worker of increased productiveness. Everything possible should be done against the capitalist who strives, not to reward special efficiency, but to use it as an excuse for reducing the reward of moderate efficiency. The capitalist is an unworthy citizen who pays the efficient man no more than he has been content to pay the average man, and nevertheless reduces the wage of the average man; and effort should be made by the Government to check and punish him. When labor-saving machinery is introduced, special care should be takenby the Government if necessaryto see that the wage-worker gets his share of the benefit, and that it is not all absorbed by the employer or capitalist. The following case, which has come to my knowledge, illustrates what I mean. A number of new machines were installed in a certain shoe factory, and as a result there was a heavy increase in production even though there was no increase in the labor force. Some of the workmen were instructed in the use of these machines by special demonstrators sent out by the makers of the machines. These men, by reason of their special aptitudes and the fact that they were not called upon to operate the machines continuously nine hours every day, week in and week out, but only for an hour or so at special times, were naturally able to run the machines at their maximum capacity. When these demonstrators had left the factory, and the company's own employees had become used to operating the machines at a fair rate of speed, the foreman of the establishment gradually speeded the machines and demanded a larger and still larger output, constantly endeavoring to drive the men on to greater exertions. Even with a slightly less maximum capacity, the introduction of this machinery resulted in a great increase over former production with the same amount of labor; and so great were the profits from the business in the following two years as to equal the total capitalized stock of the company. But not a cent got into the pay envelope of the workmen beyond what they had formerly been receiving before the introduction of this new machinery, notwithstanding that it had meant an added strain, physical and mental, upon their energies, and that they were forced to work harder than ever before. The whole of the increased profits remained with the company. Now this represented an "increase of efficiency," with a positive decrease of social and industrial justice. The increase of prosperity which came from increase of production in no way benefited the wage-workers. I hold that they were treated with gross injustice; and that society, acting if necessary through the Government, in such a case should bend its energies to remedy such injustice; and I will support any proper legislation that will aid in securing the desired end.
The wage-worker should not only receive fair treatment; he should give fair treatment. In order that prosperity may be passed around it is necessary that the prosperity exist. In order that labor shall receive its fair share in the division of reward it is necessary that there be a reward to divide. Any proposal to reduce efficiency by insisting that the most efficient shall be limited in their output to what the least efficient can do, is a proposal to limit by so much production, and therefore to impoverish by so much the public, and specifically to reduce the amount that can be divided among the producers. This is all wrong. Our protest must be against unfair division of the reward for production. Every encouragement should be given the business man, the employer, to make his business prosperous, and therefore to earn more money for himself; and in like fashion every encouragement should be given the efficient workman. We must always keep in mind that to reduce the amount of production serves merely to reduce the amount that is to be divided, is in no way permanently efficient as a protest against unequal distribution, and is permanently detrimental to the entire community. But increased productiveness is not secured by excessive labor amid unhealthy surroundings. The contrary is true. Shorter hours, and healthful conditions, and opportunity for the wage-worker to make more money, and the chance for enjoyment as well as work, all add to efficiency. My contention is that there should be no penalization of efficient productiveness, brought about under healthy conditions; but that every increase of production brought about by an increase in efficiency should benefit all the parties to it, including wage-workers as well as employers or capitalists, men who work with their hands as well as men who work with their heads.
With the Western Federation of Miners I more than once had serious trouble. The leaders of this organization had preached anarchy, and certain of them were indicted for having practiced murder in the case of Governor Steunenberg, of Idaho. On one occasion in a letter or speech I coupled condemnation of these labor leaders and condemnation of certain big capitalists, describing them all alike as "undesirable citizens." This gave great offense to both sides. The open attack upon me was made for the most part either by the New York newspapers which were frankly representatives of Wall Street, or else by those so-calledand miscalledSocialists who had anarchistic leanings. Many of the latter sent me open letters of denunciation, and to one of them I responded as follows:
Dear Sir: I have received your letter of the 19th instant, in which you enclose the draft of the formal letter which is to follow. I have been notified that several delegations, bearing similar requests, are on the way hither. In the letter you, on behalf of the Cook County, Moyer-Haywood conference, protest against certain language I used in a recent letter which you assert to be designed to influence the course of justice in the case of the trial for murder of Messrs. Moyer and Haywood. I entirely agree with you that it is improper to endeavor to influence the course of justice, whether by threats or in any similar manner. For this reason I have regretted most deeply the actions of such organizations as your own in undertaking to accomplish this very result in the very case of which you speak. For instance, your letter is headed "Cook County Moyer-Haywood-Pettibone Conference," with the headlines: "Deathcannotwill notand shall not claim our brothers!" This shows that you and your associates are not demanding a fair trial, or working for a fair trial, but are announcing in advance that the verdict shall only be one way and that you will not tolerate any other verdict. Such action is flagrant in its impropriety, and I join heartily in condemning it.
But it is a simple absurdity to suppose that because any man is on trial for a given offense he is therefore to be freed from all criticism upon his general conduct and manner of life. In my letter to which you object I referred to a certain prominent financier, Mr. Harriman, on the one hand, and to Messrs. Moyer, Haywood and Debs on the other, as being equally undesirable citizens. It is as foolish to assert that this was designed to influence the trial of Moyer and Haywood as to assert that it was designed to influence the suits that have been brought against Mr. Harriman. I neither expressed nor indicated any opinion as to whether Messrs. Moyer and Haywood were guilty of the murder of Governor Steunenberg. If they are guilty, they certainly ought to be punished. If they are not guilty, they certainly ought not to be punished. But no possible outcome either of the trial or the suits can affect my judgment as to the undesirability of the type of citizenship of those whom I mentioned. Messrs. Moyer, Haywood, and Debs stand as representatives of those men who have done as much to discredit the labor movement as the worst speculative financiers or most unscrupulous employers of labor and debauchers of legislatures have done to discredit honest capitalists and fair-dealing business men. They stand as the representatives of those men who by their public utterances and manifestoes, by the utterances of the papers they control or inspire, and by the words and deeds of those associated with or subordinated to them, habitually appear as guilty of incitement to or apology for bloodshed and violence. If this does not constitute undesirable citizenship, then there can never be any undesirable citizens. The men whom I denounce represent the men who have abandoned that legitimate movement for the uplifting of labor, with which I have the most hearty sympathy; they have adopted practices which cut them off from those who lead this legitimate movement. In every way I shall support the law-abiding and upright representatives of labor; and in no way can I better support them than by drawing the sharpest possible line between them on the one hand, and, on the other hand, those preachers of violence who are themselves the worst foes of the honest laboring man.
Let me repeat my deep regret that any body of men should so far forget their duty to the country as to endeavor by the formation of societies and in other ways to influence the course of justice in this matter. I have received many such letters as yours. Accompanying them were newspaper clippings announcing demonstrations, parades, and mass-meetings designed to show that the representatives of labor, without regard to the facts, demand the acquittal of Messrs. Haywood and Moyer. Such meetings can, of course, be designed only to coerce court or jury in rendering a verdict, and they therefore deserve all the condemnation which you in your letters say should be awarded to those who endeavor improperly to influence the course of justice.
You would, of course, be entirely within your rights if you merely announced that you thought Messrs. Moyer and Haywood were "desirable citizens"though in such case I should take frank issue with you and should say that, wholly without regard to whether or not they are guilty of the crime for which they are now being tried, they represent as thoroughly undesirable a type of citizenship as can be found in this country; a type which, in the letter to which you so unreasonably take exception, I showed not to be confined to any one class, but to exist among some representatives of great capitalists as well as among some representatives of wage-workers. In that letter I condemned both types. Certain representatives of the great capitalists in turn condemned me for including Mr. Harriman in my condemnation of Messrs. Moyer and Haywood. Certain of the representatives of labor in their turn condemned me because I included Messrs. Moyer and Haywood as undesirable citizens together with Mr. Harriman. I am as profoundly indifferent to the condemnation in one case as in the other. I challenge as a right the support of all good Americans, whether wage-workers or capitalists, whatever their occupation or creed, or in whatever portion of the country they live, when I condemn both the types of bad citizenship which I have held up to reprobation. It seems to be a mark of utter insincerity to fail thus to condemn both; and to apologize for either robs the man thus apologizing of all right to condemn any wrongdoing in any man, rich or poor, in public or in private life.
You say you ask for a "square deal" for Messrs. Moyer and Haywood. So do I. When I say "square deal," I mean a square deal to every one; it is equally a violation of the policy of the square deal for a capitalist to protest against denunciation of a capitalist who is guilty of wrongdoing and for a labor leader to protest against the denunciation of a labor leader who has been guilty of wrongdoing. I stand for equal justice to both; and so far as in my power lies I shall uphold justice, whether the man accused of guilt has behind him the wealthiest corporations, the greatest aggregations of riches in the country, or whether he has behind him the most influential labor organizations in the country.
I treated anarchists and the bomb-throwing and dynamiting gentry precisely as I treated other criminals. Murder is murder. It is not rendered one whit better by the allegation that it is committed on behalf of "a cause." It is true that law and order are not all-sufficient; but they are essential; lawlessness and murderous violence must be quelled before any permanence of reform can be obtained. Yet when they have been quelled, the beneficiaries of the enforcement of law must in their turn be taught that law is upheld as a means to the enforcement of justice, and that we will not tolerate its being turned into an engine of injustice and oppression. The fundamental need in dealing with our people, whether laboring men or others, is not charity but justice; we must all work in common for the common end of helping each and all, in a spirit of the sanest, broadest and deepest brotherhood.
It was not always easy to avoid feeling very deep anger with the selfishness and short-sightedness shown both by the representatives of certain employers' organizations and by certain great labor federations or unions. One such employers' association was called the National Association of Manufacturers. Extreme though the attacks sometimes made upon me by the extreme labor organizations were, they were not quite as extreme as the attacks made upon me by the head of the National Association of Manufacturers, and as regards their attitude toward legislation I came to the conclusion toward the end of my term that the latter had actually gone further the wrong way than did the formerand the former went a good distance also. The opposition of the National Association of Manufacturers to every rational and moderate measure for benefiting workingmen, such as measures abolishing child labor, or securing workmen's compensation, caused me real and grave concern; for I felt that it was ominous of evil for the whole country to have men who ought to stand high in wisdom and in guiding force take a course and use language of such reactionary type as directly to incite revolutionfor this is what the extreme reactionary always does.
Often I was attacked by the two sides at once. In the spring of 1906 I received in the same mail a letter from a very good friend of mine who thought that I had been unduly hard on some labor men, and a letter from another friend, the head of a great corporation, who complained about me for both favoring labor and speaking against large fortunes. My answers ran as follows:
My dear Doctor: In one of my last letters to you I enclosed you a copy of a letter of mine, in which I quoted from [So and so's] advocacy of murder. You may be interested to know that he and his brother Socialistsin reality anarchistsof the frankly murderous type have been violently attacking my speech because of my allusion to the sympathy expressed for murder. In The Socialist, of Toledo, Ohio, of April 21st, for instance, the attack [on me] is based specifically on the following paragraph of my speech, to which he takes violent exception:
We can no more and no less afford to condone evil in the man of capital than evil in the man of no capital. The wealthy man who exults because there is a failure of justice in the effort to bring some trust magnate to an account for his misdeeds is as bad as, and no worse than, the so-called labor leader who clamorously strives to excite a foul class feeling on behalf of some other labor leader who is implicated in murder. One attitude is as bad as the other, and no worse; in each case the accused is entitled to exact justice; and in neither case is there need of action by others which can be construed into an expression of sympathy for crime.
Remember that this crowd of labor leaders have done all in their power to overawe the executive and the courts of Idaho on behalf of men accused of murder, and beyond question inciters of murder in the past."
"My dear Judge: I wish the papers had given more prominence to what I said as to the murder part of my speech. But oh, my dear sir, I utterly and radically disagree with you in what you say about large fortunes. I wish it were in my power to devise some scheme to make it increasingly difficult to heap them up beyond a certain amount. As the difficulties in the way of such a scheme are very great, let us at least prevent their being bequeathed after death or given during life to any one man in excessive amount.
You and other capitalist friends, on one side, shy off at what I say against them. Have you seen the frantic articles against me by [the anarchists and] the Socialists of the bomb-throwing persuasion, on the other side, because of what I said in my speech in reference to those who, in effect, advocate murder?"
On another occasion I was vehemently denounced in certain capitalistic papers because I had a number of labor leaders, including miners from Butte, lunch with me at the White House; and this at the very time that the Western Federation of Miners was most ferocious in its denunciation of me because of what it alleged to be my unfriendly attitude toward labor. To one of my critics I set forth my views in the following letter:
"I have your letter of the 25th instant, with enclosure. These men, not all of whom were miners, by the way, came here and were at lunch with me, in company with Mr. Carroll D. Wright, Mr. Wayne MacVeagh, and Secretary Cortelyou. They are as decent a set of men as can be. They all agreed entirely with me in my denunciation of what had been done in the Coeur d'Alene country; and it appeared that some of them were on the platform with me when I denounced this type of outrage three years ago in Butte. There is not one man who was here, who, I believe, was in any way, shape or form responsible for such outrages. I find that the ultra-Socialistic members of the unions in Butte denounced these men for coming here, in a manner as violentand I may say as irrationalas the denunciation [by the capitalistic writer] in the article you sent me. Doubtless the gentleman of whom you speak as your general manager is an admirable man. I, of course, was not alluding to him; but I most emphatically was alluding to men who write such articles as that you sent me. These articles are to be paralleled by the similar articles in the Populist and Socialist papers when two years ago I had at dinner at one time Pierpont Morgan, and at another time J. J. Hill, and at another, Harriman, and at another time Schiff. Furthermore, they could be paralleled by the articles in the same type of paper which at the time of the Miller incident in the Printing Office were in a condition of nervous anxiety because I met the labor leaders to discuss it. It would have been a great misfortune if I had not met them; and it would have been an even greater misfortune if after meeting them I had yielded to their protests in the matter.
You say in your letter that you know that I am "on record" as opposed to violence. Pardon my saying that this seems to me not the right way to put the matter, if by "record" you mean utterance and not action. Aside from what happened when I was Governor in connection, for instance, with the Croton dam strike riots, all you have to do is to turn back to what took place last June in Arizonaand you can find out about it from [Mr. X] of New York. The miners struck, violence followed, and the Arizona Territorial authorities notified me they could not grapple with the situation. Within twenty minutes of the receipt of the telegram, orders were issued to the nearest available troops, and twenty-four hours afterwards General Baldwin and his regulars were on the ground, and twenty-four hours later every vestige of disorder had disappeared. The Miners' Federation in their meeting, I think at Denver, a short while afterwards, passed resolutions denouncing me. I do not know whether the Mining and Engineering Journal paid any heed to this incident or knew of it. If the Journal did, I suppose it can hardly have failed to understand that to put an immediate stop to rioting by the use of the United States army is a fact of importance beside which the criticism of my having "labor leaders" to lunch, shrinks into the same insignificance as the criticism in a different type of paper about my having "trust magnates" to lunch. While I am President I wish the labor man to feel that he has the same right of access to me that the capitalist has; that the doors swing open as easily to the wage-worker as to the head of a big corporationand no easier. Anything else seems to be not only un-American, but as symptomatic of an attitude which will cost grave trouble if persevered in. To discriminate against labor men from Butte because there is reason to believe that rioting has been excited in other districts by certain labor unions, or individuals in labor unions in Butte, would be to adopt precisely the attitude of those who desire me to discriminate against all capitalists in Wall Street because there are plenty of capitalists in Wall Street who have been guilty of bad financial practices and who have endeavored to override or evade the laws of the land. In my judgment, the only safe attitude for a private citizen, and still more for a public servant, to assume, is that he will draw the line on conduct, discriminating against neither corporation nor union as such, nor in favor of either as such, but endeavoring to make the decent member of the union and the upright capitalists alike feel that they are bound, not only by self-interest, but by every consideration of principle and duty to stand together on the matters of most moment to the nation."
On another of the various occasions when I had labor leaders to dine at the White House, my critics were rather shocked because I had John Morley to meet them. The labor leaders in question included the heads of the various railroad brotherhoods, men like Mr. Morrissey, in whose sound judgment and high standard of citizenship I had peculiar confidence; and I asked Mr. Morley to meet them because they represented the exact type of American citizen with whom I thought he ought to be brought in contact.
One of the devices sometimes used by big corporations to break down the law was to treat the passage of laws as an excuse for action on their part which they knew would be resented by the public, it being their purpose to turn this resentment against the law instead of against themselves. The heads of the Louisville and Nashville road were bitter opponents of everything done by the Government toward securing good treatment for their employees. In February, 1908, they and various other railways announced that they intended to reduce the wages of their employees. A general strike, with all the attendant disorder and trouble, was threatened in consequence. I accordingly sent the following open letter to the Inter-State Commerce Commission:
"To the Inter-State Commerce Commission: I am informed that a number of railroad companies have served notice of a proposed reduction of wages of their employees. One of them, the Louisville and Nashville, in announcing the reduction, states that "the drastic laws inimical to the interests of the railroads that have in the past year or two been enacted by Congress and the State Legislatures" are largely or chiefly responsible for the conditions requiring the reduction.
Under such circumstances it is possible that the public may soon be confronted by serious industrial disputes, and the law provides that in such case either party may demand the services of your Chairman and of the Commissioner of Labor as a Board of Mediation and Conciliation. These reductions in wages may be warranted, or they may not. As to this the public, which is a vitally interested party, can form no judgment without a more complete knowledge of the essential facts and real merits of the case than it now has or than it can possibly obtain from the special pleadings, certain to be put forth by each side in case their dispute should bring about serious interruption to traffic. If the reduction in wages is due to natural causes, the loss of business being such that the burden should be, and is, equitably distributed between capitalist and wage-worker, the public should know it. If it is caused by legislation, the public, and Congress, should know it; and if it is caused by misconduct in the past financial or other operations of any railroad, then everybody should know it, especially if the excuse of unfriendly legislation is advanced as a method of covering up past business misconduct by the railroad managers, or as a justification for failure to treat fairly the wage-earning employees of the company.
Moreover, an industrial conflict between a railroad corporation and its employees offers peculiar opportunities to any small number of evil-disposed persons to destroy life and property and foment public disorder. Of course, if life, property, and public order are endangered, prompt and drastic measures for their protection become the first plain duty. All other issues then become subordinate to the preservation of the public peace, and the real merits of the original controversy are necessarily lost from view. This vital consideration should be ever kept in mind by all law-abiding and far-sighted members of labor organizations.
It is sincerely to be hoped, therefore, that any wage controversy that may arise between the railroads and their employees may find a peaceful solution through the methods of conciliation and arbitration already provided by Congress, which have proven so effective during the past year. To this end the Commission should be in a position to have available for any Board of Conciliation or Arbitration relevant data pertaining to such carriers as may become involved in industrial disputes. Should conciliation fail to effect a settlement and arbitration be rejected, accurate information should be available in order to develop a properly informed public opinion.
I therefore ask you to make such investigation, both of your records and by any other means at your command, as will enable you to furnish data concerning such conditions obtaining on the Louisville and Nashville and any other roads, as may relate, directly or indirectly, to the real merits of the possibly impending controversy.
This letter achieved its purpose, and the threatened reduction of wages was not made. It was an instance of what could be accomplished by governmental action. Let me add, however, with all the emphasis I possess, that this does not mean any failure on my part to recognize the fact that if governmental action places too heavy burdens on railways, it will be impossible for them to operate without doing injustice to somebody. Railways cannot pay proper wages and render proper service unless they make money. The investors must get a reasonable profit or they will not invest, and the public cannot be well served unless the investors are making reasonable profits. There is every reason why rates should not be too high, but they must be sufficiently high to allow the railways to pay good wages. Moreover, when laws like workmen's compensation laws, and the like are passed, it must always be kept in mind by the Legislature that the purpose is to distribute over the whole community a burden that should not be borne only by those least able to bear itthat is, by the injured man or the widow and orphans of the dead man. If the railway is already receiving a disproportionate return from the public, then the burden may, with propriety, bear purely on the railway; but if it is not earning a disproportionate return, then the public must bear its share of the burden of the increased service the railway is rendering. Dividends and wages should go up together; and the relation of rates to them should never be forgotten. This of course does not apply to dividends based on water; nor does it mean that if foolish people have built a road that renders no service, the public must nevertheless in some way guarantee a return on the investment; but it does mean that the interests of the honest investor are entitled to the same protection as the interests of the honest manager, the honest shipper and the honest wage earner. All these conflicting considerations should be carefully considered by Legislatures before passing laws. One of the great objects in creating commissions should be the provision of disinterested, fair-minded experts who will really and wisely consider all these matters, and will shape their actions accordingly. This is one reason why such matters as the regulation of rates, the provision for full crews on roads and the like should be left for treatment by railway commissions, and not be settled off hand by direct legislative action.
One of my appointees on the Anthracite Strike Commission was Judge George Gray, of Delaware, a Democrat whose standing in the country was second only to that of Grover Cleveland. A year later he commented on my action as follows:
"I have no hesitation in saying that the President of the United States was confronted in October, 1902, by the existence of a crisis more grave and threatening than any that had occurred since the Civil War. I mean that the cessation of mining in the anthracite country, brought about by the dispute between the miners and those who controlled the greatest natural monopoly in this country and perhaps in the world, had brought upon more than one-half of the American people a condition of deprivation of one of the necessaries of life, and the probable continuance of the dispute threatened not only the comfort and health, but the safety and good order, of the nation. He was without legal or constitutional power to interfere, but his position as President of the United States gave him an influence, a leadership, as first citizen of the republic, that enabled him to appeal to the patriotism and good sense of the parties to the controversy and to place upon them the moral coercion of public opinion to agree to an arbitrament of the strike then existing and threatening consequences so direful to the whole country. He acted promptly and courageously, and in so doing averted the dangers to which I have alluded.
"So far from interfering or infringing upon property rights, the President's action tended to conserve them. The peculiar situation, as regards the anthracite coal interest, was that they controlled a natural monopoly of a product necessary to the comfort and to the very life of a large portion of the people. A prolonged deprivation of the enjoyment of this necessary of life would have tended to precipitate an attack upon these property rights of which you speak; for, after all, it is vain to deny that this property, so peculiar in its conditions, and which is properly spoken of as a natural monopoly, is affected with a public interest.
"I do not think that any President ever acted more wisely, courageously or promptly in a national crisis. Mr. Roosevelt deserves unstinted praise for what he did." [back]